Unemployment lines

People, who began camping out 8 p.m. June 25 wait in line outside the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission (OESC) to try and resolve issues that have prevented them from receiving unemployment payments on June 26 in Oklahoma City. Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman

Problems at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission are worse than expected, requiring an emergency approach now and a deep dive later to reform a clearly broken system.

For decades, the OESC has been ignored or shrunk by state budgets and left to the control of political appointees. That neglect is now haunting thousands of Oklahomans caught in a backlog of an overwhelmed and fraud-beset system.

How bad is it? Look at Oklahomans by the hundreds waiting outside OESC offices — in some cases camping overnight — during heat advisories and a pandemic to sort out issues with their claims.

That is a national embarrassment and a failure of state government to do its job adequately.

As the pandemic shut down businesses, unemployment claims surged, right along with fraudulent claims. In most cases, the victims of fraud aren’t aware of it until they attempt to file claims.

Since March 1, more than 64,000 fraudulent claims have been flagged with stopped payments, according to a Tulsa World story from Andrea Eger. But it can take weeks or months for the legitimate worker to file a genuine claim and get payments.

These workers are facing cutoff notices, evictions or late mortgage payments and are falling behind on other bills.

The OESC opened its offices but limits the public due to public health dangers around the novel coronavirus. The agency has hosted large expo-like events in Oklahoma City and plans the same for Tulsa.

The OESC obviously is overwhelmed. It needs help from other agency staff, previous employees or even the National Guard to make sure people waiting outdoors have water and medical attention.

As lawmakers ponder their next legislative agenda, updating and reforming the OESC must be a priority.

We support calls for a legislative study of what went wrong and to find solutions. Let’s get to the bottom of this and do what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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